MRR President Tris Carta Always Looking For Ways To Improve The Event

For most of the year, Tris Carta is a mild-mannered dentist.

But every November, on certain days, Carta exchanges his white lab coat for a maroon Manchester Road Race coat, or, depending on the event, a tie imprinted with little winged feet — the Manchester Road Race logo — and turns into the president of the road race.

Actually, Carta works on the race year round. But it's very busy the month or so before the annual 4.748-mile Thanksgiving Day race, which will be held for the 80th time Thursday morning at 10 a.m. on Main Street in Manchester.

"[Race director] Jim Balcome says there's not a day that goes by that he doesn't think about the Manchester Road Race," Carta said. "I might have a few days that I don't think about it. I'm always trying to think of ways to make it better."

Carta, 62, of Manchester, has been the road race president for 10 years. It's a big job: the race attracts 15,000 runners and walkers on Thanksgiving Day. It's on TV and radio. There always is an international field, including Olympic marathon silver medalist Galen Rupp this year. There are fast runners and slow runners. There is a board of directors, and there are about 600 volunteers.

It's Carta's job to keep everything running smoothly and everybody happy.

"You've seen how he deals with everyone," said Jack Leonard, who has been a road race volunteer since 1993 and is the secretary of the road race committee. "He's a physician with a great bedside manner. That attitude, the enthusiasm, the kindness, the thoughtfulness — it's characteristic of him, it's the way he treats people all the time."

Last Friday morning, Carta was wearing his white lab coat and seeing patients. His dental office, on East Center Street, is 100 yards past the 4-mile mark of the road race. A life-size road race statue of a woman runner decorated by the Manchester Garden Club stands in the waiting room. The walls are decorated with road race posters. One, in the hallway, is from 2007, signed by 1972 Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter, who came to the race as an honorary chairman that year, Carta's first as president.

"This is Road Race Central," said Beth Sottile, a dental assistant at the practice. "I've worked with him for 18 years. I think of it as choreography; I know him so well, that when we have really busy times like now — we've had like three dental emergencies this morning, amidst all the other activity — he knows he can depend on me about what he needs to do to take care of his patients, and still find time for all the other stuff. It's an intense couple weeks."

While Carta was working upstairs, Leonard and two other volunteers, Paul Gibson and Chris Baldwin, were in the basement of the practice. Leonard and Baldwin were organizing sponsorship signs. Gibson, who organizes the ham radio operators on race day and is a member of the race's executive committee, was picking up a timing clock for the Little Manchester Road Race, a series of short races for kids on Saturday.

Carta came down the stairs, carrying a cup of tea.

"Hey," he said. "I heard there was a party down here!"

The others laughed.

Carta actually wasn't laughing last Monday night.

"I had one of the most horrifying experiences of my life, with my computer, with an Excel file merging with a word file to print up some labels. This isn't something I do a lot."

He was making new name tags for the press conference.

"In my work, I always admired bosses or supervisors who were willing to step in and do whatever they asked of their subordinates," Leonard said. "I think that's a characteristic of a good supervisor. It encourages the volunteers. It's a good way to lead people."

Carta had a more horrifying moment last year, when he discovered the day of the press conference, when sponsors, media and runners converge on Manchester Country Club for lunch, that the country club was booked that day because of a miscommunication.

"That was so much worse than horrifying," Carta said. "That rates up there with Michigan State beating Michigan with 10 seconds left.

"They blocked a punt and Michigan State ran it in for the winning touchdown and the only thing I could say was, 'Oh my God,' and I probably didn't talk for like three to four days after that because I was so traumatized."

People were called. A new venue was found. The press conference, which hosts about 120 people, was held instead at the Elks Club that day without a hitch.

Carta is talking to his patients about the race last Friday. One has a chipped tooth. What will she be doing Thanksgiving? Cooking, she said. "If you're cooking, you can have the TV or radio on and you can listen to the road race," he tells her.

Later, he's talking to another patient about seed cards, which are for faster runners so they don't get caught in the logjam that is the middle of the pack.

Then he's talking up the road race expo that would happen the next day. "We're going to have Amby Burfoot there," he tells another patient.

In between patients, Carta checked road race emails. A Michigan graduate, he also checked quickly to see if Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who has been listed as day-to-day with a shoulder injury, might be able to play against Ohio State Saturday.

Carta is a longtime runner but he hasn't run the road race in years. He started running the race in 1978, then he started helping out around the mid-'80s. The last time he ran it? Fifteen years ago? It all blurs together. He can't remember.

"I never anticipated doing this," he said. "You slowly get pulled in. You love what you do and you want to do a little more and help a little more. 'Can you do that? And do this?' Oh sure, it's for the race, of course you can. 'Can you be on the executive committee?' Sure. It's such a great thing and before you know it, you're fully vested."

Last year, former president Dave Prindiville retired from organizing the road race after 40 years of involvement.

"When Dave left, there were new tasks I've taken on, so I'm in a learning curve with that," Carta said. "I'm hoping by next year, that curve will be done.

"One of the problems I had last year was getting people from the airport Thanksgiving week when it's so crowded. Maybe there's a snowstorm in Chicago that will delay a flight. ... Now we have an Uber account and the runners have the password."

On Saturday morning, Carta is wearing his maroon road race coat as the activity and noise of the Little Manchester Road Race swirls around him. The children's races, which sold out with 1,000 runners, are held in a field across from Carter Chevrolet off the road race route.

He spies Prindiville and they catch up and then they're looking up in the sky — and it's not a bird, it's a plane — and then skydivers jump out and float down to the field. The kids cheer.

Earlier, Carta was at the road race expo at the crowded gym at Bennet Academy, talking to sponsors and vendors and friends and patients. He chatted with nine-time winner Burfoot, who was autographing books, about the field and the surprise addition of Rupp.

At this point, there's not a lot for Carta to do. The cogs of the race's machinery are in motion. The volunteers are doing their jobs, which many have done for years.

"I'm putting out a couple fires here and there," he said. "Today is more for thanking people. That's important. This race doesn't go on without the community support, the volunteer support. You thank everybody you can as much as you can. The race is only as good as all the people working the race."

That's what Carta likes best about the race: the people.

"There's something about organizations where people volunteer and are giving — they're good people," he said. "They're doing something positive. They're giving back. It's good to be around those people. It's incredible the expertise some of these people have. I feel like I give a lot but I feel like I get a lot more back."

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